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Published On: Sun, Oct 1st, 2017

Operation Python Dance: Relative peace belies palpable uncertainty in Abia

From PETER OKORE, Umuahia

Since the Python Dance military operation which led to a confrontation with the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB, and its eventual proscription by the government, relative peace seems to have returned to the besieged state of Abia. But with the battle shifting to the law court where the embattled group is challenging the federal government on its proscription and the whereabouts of its leader, Nnamdi Kanu, there is considerable anxiety in the among the people what the present move may portend.

 

As the nation awaits the outcome of discussions the leadership of the senate and governors from the South-East with President Muhammadu Buhari over IPOB, there is uncertainty what the outcome may and further government action against the group and the likely backlash from the agitators. Occasionally, residents are frightened by the noise of jet-fighters, raiding the airspace.

 

Compared with the previous atmosphere engendered by the military operation characterized by the intense, intimidating and provocative tension during the face-off between 10th and 15th September, 2017, residents are quite grateful to the government for bring their lives to normalcy again. The scene was a reminder of the very situation those who lived in the Biafra enclave in 1966/67, which eventually culminated into the Nigeria/Biafra war.

For the events that dominated the media world for most of the month, the crux of the matter was that  the military invaded  Abia state  without notice or any pre-police action.  Coming under a scheduled military exercise, misunderstanding trailed  the actions of the advance troops to Abia. Their reason was that they were in Abia under the cover of a military exercise code-named, “Operation Python Dance Two”, declared in South-East geo-political zone of the country  by the military.

That exercise was formally scheduled to start on 14thSeptember and end on 15th October, 2017. But ahead of time, the trigger-happy advance troop  stepped-in on 10th September  and  caused mayhem, considered to be outside their mandate. Unfortunately, the troops arrived at a time the state chief security officer was out of the state and had no knowledge of the military exercise and left no instructions.

Consequently, the actions  of the advance  troops (for whatever good  intentions) were misconstrued to mean that the Python Dance deployed to Abia state, was  under instruction to  either annihilate the Igbo speaking race,  re-arrest the leader of Indigenous People of Biafra(IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu or kill him ahead of his trial.

Under such fears and contradictions, the intentions appeared to manifest by Sunday when the soldiers invaded the Palace of the Traditional ruler of Afaraukwu Community, Umuahia-North LGA,  HRH,Eze Isreal Kanu, father of  IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu. They were prevented from entering by vigilant villagers.

The following day, Monday, the soldiers attacked the State Secretariat of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, where they beat-up some Journalists, damaged their working implements and destroyed other property of the Union. The military later apologised orally to NUJ. Same day the soldiers clashed with civilians at Ubakala- junction, Isialangwa and Aba township, where lives and properties were lost.

Faced with such a bloody drama, the state governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu was forced to return home to address the situation, just as the South-East states Governors’ Forum at their meeting at Enugu, proscribed the IPOB and its activities in the zone.

First, Ikpeazu in a Radio and Television broadcast calmed frayed nerves   as he sought solutions to the impasse. He declared a dusk to dawn curfew in Aba Metropolis.  He thereafter initiated some intervention measures to include discussions with the top echelon of the military pleading with them to withdraw soldiers from the streets of Aba and Umuahia; for the military to apply caution in their operations and for Abians to co-operate with the military in the discharge of their duties.

While that was going on, on Thursday the same week, the military again invaded the palace of Eze Kanu, where lives were lost and severe damages done to persons and materials. One painful killing was that of a young lady, who voluntarily undertook to control traffic  at a junction close to the Palace. Indeed, the services of that lady were always cherished by motorists, especially, during the rush hours in Umuahia.

In all about 50 of the people caught running for their dear lives during the sporadic shootings in Umuahia and Aba were arrested by the military. The number of the deceased is not known yet.  But last week an Umuahia chief Magistrate’s court ordered that all the suspects be remanded in the Umuahia Prisons till October 25, 2017, when they will  re-appear to face charges of treason, unlawful assembly among others.

Following the fragile situation, a number of measures were set in- motion for truce.  After expressing regret for the invasion of Abia state that had remained peaceful for years, Ikpeazu met with traditional rulers, who are now asking Gen. Burutai, Chief of Army Staff, the whereabouts of their colleague and his family.

Ikpeazu also inter acted with other interest groups in the state and emphasised the need to sue for calm and peaceful co-existence. He regretted that the army struck and disturbed business activities   at a time the federal government has given Aba Metropolis a 24 –hour power supply. According to him, if any war breaks out as a result of the soldiers – civilians clash, Nigeria would never be the same again.

” There are about 11.6 million Igbos residing and doing their legitimate businesses in the Northern parts of Nigeria. Reprisal attack will do us/ Nigeria no good. Quoting available statistics, he said, if you add the number of NYSC-members of Igbo extraction serving in the North, the  population of  Ndi-Igbo  living in North  will reach16 million”.

Ikpeazu also held an interactive session with leaders of Hausa and Yoruba communities residing in Abia to assure them of their security in the state. The Moslems have since been holding their normal Juma’at services on Fridays. However, some groups, individuals and functionaries have risen to the occasion by appealing, Lt-Gen Tukur Buratai to withdraw his troops from Abia.

The Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the National Human Rights Commission, Civil Liberty organizations, National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and others, and the three senators representing Abia state in the National Assembly have joined the call on the federal government to withdraw soldiers from streets in Abia, describing the action as un-constitutional and a threat to peace and security in the state and Nigeria in general.

Following the positions earlier taken by Senate President,  Bukola Saraki, the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) also   agreed  that the deployment of soldiers with armoured tanks and military hardware to Abia State  is unconstitutional. It warned that democracy in Nigeria was threatened once again under the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government. According to NADECO, the invasion without the approvals by appropriate legal authorities was unconstitutional and a gradual usurpation of power by the Nigerian Army. The group argued that the military, by that action, illegally took – over the functions of the National Assembly, the Abia State House of Assembly and the legal authorities.

NADECO’s position was contained in a statement issued by its chairman, Rear Admiral Godwin N. Kanu (Rtd). He insisted that the action of the soldiers was “inconsistent with the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and may be the beginning, if not checked, of the unwitting subversion of democracy in Nigeria.”

 

 

 

 

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